Kilometres: One thousand and something!
“Evergreen State”s crossed: not quite one.
Star-spangled flags spotted: about 7.3 per person.
As I pedalled out of Nicholson Street after a few days with some family friends, I thought “Well, I’m a cyclist again”. I left Penticton full, happy, excited and, well, in pouring rain and into a driving headwind. It sucked, frankly. The scenery was nice though, riding alongside lakes and rivers down towards the border.
I stopped in the wonderfully named Osoyoos and found Roberto’s Gelato, which had been advertised on warmshowers.org as a place where the travelling cyclist could score, well, a free gelato. Roberto was as good as his word, and threw in a coffee for good measure. Ten years ago he rode a mountain bike along Australia’s Great Dividing Trail from top to bottom, from northern Queensland deep into New South Wales. I felt pretty inferior compared to that. After an hour or so of bicycle talk some couchsurfing people sent me directions to their house and soon after I was introduced to James, Sam, and their toy poodle Fagin.
“Finally,” said Sam (who is in his 50’s) to James (in his 60’s) as he came in the front door, fresh from walking Fagin. “You’ve found us a handsome young couchsurfer!” We hugged by way of introduction.
This was my first experience with couchsurfing and after a few minutes of introduction I made moves for the shower, so as to avoid stinking up their flat any further. As I turned the taps, I realised there was no shower curtain, which at the time was no cause for alarm. I mildly wondered where the hole in the wall might be, if there’d been one.
There was a knock at the door. I turned off the shower and James’ voice told me he’d forgotten to attach the shower curtain. He’d been washing it, apparently, but not to worry – he had a spare right there in his hand. I hastily wrapped myself in a towel and opened the door to accept it.
“Let the old perves have a gander, I suppose,” I remember thinking.
When I emerged Sam was rolling dough for the pizzas we’d be eating and after some chat, he informed me that I’d forgotten to roll my own.
“I’ve done it for you though, so it’s ok,” he said. “However. You are going to have to be punished.”
“He’s teasing you,” said James with a dismissive wave of the hand, seeing the colour drain from my face.
“No, we’ve long thought about adding a fresh sausage to our sandwhich,” Sam was saying, “and I think this is the perfect opportunity.”
Dear readers, you have to understand that despite the list of queer friends, housemates and acquaintances I’ve accumulated over the years, I’ve had an experience or two in my time and in my addled, paranoid state, things were starting to add up. The handsome remark. The shower curtain coincidence (or elaborate ruse?). The fact that all of James and Sam’s couchsurfers had been young men, travelling on their own. Oh dear.
When I drew the line and announced my intention to leave, they could not have been better about it. These guys have, after all, been dealing with stereotypes their whole lives. Fears were assuaged, questions were answered and, well, after that they were pretty darn frank about their lives, sexual and otherwise. I stayed, and I’m glad I did.
They turned out to be two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. One story that stuck with me came from James, who told me when he was in his early 20’s and people were starting to wonder why he never had any girlfriends, the local priest approached him and advised he go into the seminary. How sinister is that?! Between them they’ve been a school principal, hired friend to the terminally ill, a truck driver and a bunch of other things. They’d lost many friends to the AIDS epidemic that decimated the gay community in the 1980’s and gave me the strongest, most heartfelt lecture on safe sex I’d ever heard. They’d make incredibly effective replacements for the bored, embarrassed PE teachers from my high school. They’d done a lot of things that while not criminal, I think it would be prudent to not publish online. In any case, I’ve changed their names for this post. We spent the evening eating pizza (the best homemade pizza I’ve ever had), drinking scotch and listening to old Rick Wakeman and Yes records, which took me back to the nights that dad would cook and sing along to his favourite nerdy prog-rock bands.
In the morning, just a few kilometres up the road, I suddenly had to deal with my first border crossing – and a U.S. border at that. It was painless, however, and before long I was cut loose with a three month visa in the United States of America! My first impression was “Wow, they sure love their flags down here.” My second was “Why? This place looks like a dump!” To be fair, border towns usually are and Oroville was no exception.
The next town, Tonasket, was much nicer and the scene of my first meal in America – a 12 inch “super burrito” at the suitably named “La Ultima” (“The Last”) restaurant. Michael, the owner, was full of tips about staying safe once I reach Mexico and I tried to nod at appropriate times as his sizzling hot daughter sashayed around the kitchen behind him.
“He said ‘cheers’!” Michael grinned to the other patrons after I thanked him for my burrito.
In Omak I learned to kill and fillet fish with Parker and in Wenatchee (a particularly friendly town) I was a) bought lunch by a stranger while I was stealing wifi outside Starbucks, b) taken on a riding tour around the town’s riverside parks by the impressively bearded Mike and c) hosted by the incredible Judith and Peter, whose kids I am sure will go on to be great politicians or scientists or something. By night I listened to coyotes snarling just outside my window. I camped overlooking Lake Chelan and in an orchard outside Naches, advised by a fruit picker (and fellow cyclist) which fields had already been picked and would therefore remain undisturbed in the morning. Outside the pretty town of Ellensburg I stayed with Melvin and Keiko, who between them have travelled and cycled most of the planet. Their house was a combination of old-timey charm and a museum to a lifetime of accomplishments. I’ve lost count of the times people have fed me. I’m not sure if it’s getting harder or easier to accept all this generosity
It seems someone has stolen letters from every single sign like this in Washington state.
Morning swim and porridge at Lake Chelan.
Columbia River near Wenatchee.
Yesterday, as I steadily ascended towards White Pass (1370 metres) my odometer clicked into four digits.
This is what things looked like at kilometre number 1000.
At the next shop I found, which looked like this:
a suitably huge, bald, bearded attendant found me the most local beer he had.
“One thousand kilometres at the Rimrock Grocer. Who’da thought it?” he said, shaking his head as he handed me my change.
The next several hours were spent winding uphill through some pretty amazing mountain scenery, marred only by a stiff headwind. The less said about that wind, the better.
I may have taken the whole constant headwind thing a little too personal.
And so here I am in the little hamlet of Randle, Washington. After yesterday’s 120km effort over a mountain pass I’ve given myself the day off to punch out this little number and look for a couch to crash on when I get to Portland in a couple of days. Randle is an interesting enough place. I camped behind a church last night and woke to find the volunteers of the local food bank working away next door. An old guy named Jim (of course) came over to check me out on behalf of the others. He wore a fleece vest, jeans and the ubiquitous veterans cap that almost every old man over here seems to have glued to their head. When I asked if I could help out in the food bank, he turned and yelled at the group, “Bill! You need a hand over there?”
“Not unless he can satisfy my wife,” came the reply.
“Carol, you’re needed in the tent over there!” someone else shouted and a stout lady blushed.
I’m camping behind this church.
The other church. Randle is a bit of an outlier in that it only has two churches to service its population of 3000. Most American towns have about four per person.
Smokey has been asking me to “Prevent Wildfires!” several times per day for about a week now.
The Tall Timber diner, where you’ll find me for the next hour or so with a beer in hand.
And that’s about it for now! I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the Oregon coast in around a week. If anyone can locate me a spare couch or something in Portland, let me know!